China: Uighur Muslims - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 11 February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Non-affiliated 2:36, 11 February 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the allegations of human rights abuses committed against the Uighur Muslim community in the Western Province of China.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, we remain seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of political re-education camps and widespread surveillance and restrictions targeted at Uighur Muslims and indeed other minority groups. Our diplomats recently visited Xinjiang. We believe strongly that everyone everywhere should enjoy equal rights and protections under the law. That is why we are promoting and defending human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, which is a fundamental part of the UK’s foreign policy.

Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Non-affiliated

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he has already confirmed, according to media and social media reports, concentration camps, mass surveillance, forced disappearances, torture and the banning of religious practices are all happening there. Will the Minister join me in condemning these gross violations of human rights by the Chinese authorities, and will he demand the closure of these concentration camps and access for UN representatives to confirm that the detainees have been released and the camps have been closed down?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The noble Lord rightly raises important issues and concerns. Reports have also indicated that even basic expressions of religious symbolism, such as the growing of a beard or the wearing of a headscarf, are used as indicators to target particular communities. I assure the noble Lord that we are working on this, including with the UN, which he mentioned. We have clearly asked the Chinese authorities to implement the full recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and we have reminded them both bilaterally—as the Foreign Secretary did last year in his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister—and in the Human Rights Council that our concerns about the camps and the reports from our diplomats in Beijing require action. On human rights more generally, I assure the noble Lord that I am specifically looking at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council in March to see how we can not just lobby on this issue but build stronger alliances.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise his concerns about the abuse of human rights of the Uighur community in Xinjiang province. Today, Turkey has made a formal protest to the United Nations, asking it to investigate what is going on in that part of the world. Have we made formal representations to the United Nations, and have we warned the International Criminal Court to keep an eye on what is happening in some of these camps?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, as I said, the United Kingdom has taken a very serious stance on this issue. I mentioned the Human Rights Council. At the latest UPR last November, we raised not the general issue of human rights but specifically the plight of the Uighurs and the detention camps. I assure the noble Lord that we will consider all avenues at our disposal to raise these issues bilaterally with China and through building international alliances. It is because of the strength of our relationship with China, which is an important one, that we can raise these issues in a candid manner.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, there have been consistent reports from within these re-education camps that Uighur Muslims were forced to give DNA tissue and blood, and consistent allegations that Falun Gong followers have been subject to forced organ harvesting. Have we spoken to the Chinese about our worries about those tests and their purpose, and whether they are in any way connected to the recent worrying reports of rogue gene editing in China?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My noble friend makes some important points. On organ harvesting, I am fully cognisant of the issue of Falun Gong, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has raised several times. As my noble friend may be aware, Sir Geoffrey Nice conducted a report on this matter, the preliminary findings of which have been made available; the final report is still due. Foreign Office officials attended the launch of the preliminary report and will attend the follow-up meeting. On the other issues she raises, let me assure her that in all our interactions with the Chinese Administration, we have made it very clear that their actions are disproportionate, discriminatory against particular communities and, indeed, counter- productive in the longer term for China as it seeks to establish its position on the world stage. I assure my noble friend that we will continue to raise these issues through all avenues.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, in the aftermath of the death in detention of the Uighur poet and musician, Abdurehim Heyit, how does the Minister respond to the Turkish Foreign Ministry—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—calling on China to close the camps, alleging, in its words, “torture and brainwashing” and calling them “a shame on humanity”? Can we expect to see the United Kingdom Government not only press again the human rights point with the Security Council but raise with China the danger to its whole belt and road initiative, which is in jeopardy if many countries with large Muslim populations decide to follow Turkey’s lead and start imposing sanctions, preventing the development of those capital projects?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Lord raises the issue of Turkey and other countries. I assure them that we are working with all international partners on this important priority. I agree with the noble Lord about the camps. First, China claimed that they did not exist. Now the claim is that they are there for re-education. About 10% of the whole Uighur community is being held in these camps. It is clear that the camps are extrajudicial and are held so that people can change their faith. We are aware of the various reports and we will act to ensure that they are verifiable. That does not mean that we are sitting back and doing nothing; we are working with all like-minded partners. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, I shall seek to take this up during Human Rights Council meetings as well.

Photo of Baroness Kingsmill Baroness Kingsmill Labour

My Lords, will the Government consider making representations to the Trump Administration in respect of the human rights of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of children currently caged, it would appear, many of whom have been lost in the system? There is a real breach there. They are our allies. It would be helpful if representations were being made.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a number of issues, including the allegations of children being caged. All these matters are very much on our radar. Specifically on the American question, I am in regular contact with Sam Brownback, the US ambassador for freedom of religious belief. I hope to meet him very soon and I assure the noble Baroness that we will discuss this issue.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, there are pictures of these camps on the BBC website. They are huge and the idea that they are somehow for educational purposes is just crazy. Can the noble Lord tell us more about building alliances, because the international response to this crisis has been muted? What is he doing, specifically with other Muslim countries, to try to build up a much stronger response so that China does listen?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I too have seen those images and anyone who has cannot help but be appalled by them. The noble Lord raises the issue of building alliances. I have talked about the Human Rights Council and my meeting with the US ambassador for freedom of religious belief. However, this is not just about Muslim countries. As I often say, I defend the rights of Christians and people of no belief, not despite being a Muslim but because I am a Muslim—as anyone of any faith would protect the rights of others. That is the British Government’s approach, which I know is shared by the noble Lord and, indeed, across the House. That is how we will approach this issue.